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Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Editorial: General Beg’s mess

Ex-army chief General Aslam Beg (Retd) gets bogged down in damning facts whenever he tries to fend off criticism of his past misdeeds. In the latest attack launched by an ex-ISI officer Brigadier Imtiaz Ahmad Billa (Retd), his tenure as the army chief is again highlighted. The charge — as framed by those who are taking note of Brig Ahmad’s campaign — is that the PPP was victimised by Gen Beg and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and that Ms Benazir Bhutto was dubbed a “security risk” in order to get rid of her.
In answer to Brig Ahmad’s accusation that operation “Midnight Jackals” against the government of Ms Bhutto was at the behest of General Beg and the then ISI chief General Hamid Gul, Gen Beg has now asserted that “Benazir Bhutto was no threat to national security”. To prove that she was “loyal” rather than a “risk”, he cites an incredible but typical secret agency report in 1990 that “the US, the Israelis and Indians were planning to attack Pakistan’s nuclear facilities”. According to him, her response was that “the Pakistan Air Force should be ready to attack India’s nuclear facilities in case Pakistan was attacked”. But if one reads the memoirs of Ms Bhutto, she doesn’t return the compliment. In fact her version is that General Beg didn’t trust she would be sensitive to the security of the country and was warned off certain areas of policy that the army had monopolised and was not willing to change despite a string of failures. She was asked to stay sway from the Afghan policy, Kashmir policy and the nuclear programme, among other issues.
Gen Beg is also keen to divert attention away from his Mehrangate scandal and focus instead on — in his thinking — a less culpable source of the money that was distributed among the politicians to defeat the PPP at the coming polls. He says, “The Saudis had given bags full of money to Mahmood Haroon to woo politicians to join the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), which was constituted to ensure that Benazir did not return to power”. To make it more realistic he has added the detail: “Haroon had claimed that the ‘money-bags’ were so heavy that his shoulders hurt for days”. But evidence shows that it was not Mr Mahmood Haroon’s shoulders that hurt but the hearts of the account-holders in the Mehran Bank that bled when details of how the bank had disbursed big amounts of money to Gen Beg came out. However, Gen Asad Durrani, the then ISI chief, has stated that he had distributed the IJI funds on orders from the army chief. If Mr Beg knew that the money was going to unfairly tilt the elections against the PPP, why did he allow the ISI to distribute it? Especially as he thought Ms Bhutto was no security risk.
Gen Beg is apparently running out of his stock of red herrings. Instead of explaining his own problems with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he has chosen to explain how Mr Sharif fell foul of the then army chief General Asif Nawaz. He should have explained his insubordination when he went and discussed the nuclear programme with Iran without consulting the prime minister. Mr Sharif is on record as having complained that Gen Beg was running his own nuclear policy in violation of his oath as the chief of Pakistan Army.
Gen Beg is in the habit of floating impossible theories as “breaking news” simply because there are people in the national media willing to listen to his anti-American rhetoric. Whenever there is a need for this kind of catharsis, he contributes fantasies that he has named “strategic defiance”. His latest pronouncement is that the people (read the US) who killed General Zia in 1988 also killed Benazir in 2007. He has blithely disregarded the fact that in any investigation of General Zia’s death his name has cropped up again and again.
Not surprisingly, this has compelled General Zia’s son, Mr Ijazul Haq, to say: “Mirza Aslam Beg should participate in the criminal investigation into the deaths of General Ziaul Haq and Benazir Bhutto if he has information about the killers”. Mr Haq is also on record as saying that he had read the “secret” Justice Shafiur Rehman (Retd) Commission report on the death of General Zia and that it had contained information about how the army had obstructed the commission’s inquiry. *

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